Researchers identify promising target for HIV treatment

27 October 2014
An HIV ribbon

HIV can be hidden in the body for years before quickly replicating itself and attacking the immune system. Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a new protein (Ssu72), responsible for the activation of HIV, and believe this can be a new target for HIV treatment. The protein, which participates in the activation of the HIV-1, is part of a switch that wakes up the virus.

The HIV virus cannot life without a protein called Tat. Tat acts as a lookout in the cell, telling the virus when the environment is the best for replication. If the environment is right, Tat will initiate the replication of HIV. Ssu72 binds directly to Tat creating a feedback loop which speeds up the replication process. This makes Tat an engine for HIV replication with Ssu72 the catalyst behind the process.

Until recently, it was thought that Tat only had one partner critical in starting the replication cascade of the virus - CycT1. However, CycT1 is not an ideal anti-viral target, as it is needed for normal cell function. Ssu72 is not, making it a potentially promising target for drug therapy.

The next step is to find a way to inhibit Ssu72's ability to kick off the replication process. If scientists are able to find a way of targeting the interaction between Tat and Ssu72, replication of HIV in the body could be stopped.

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Copyright AVERT